Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review: Don Jon

I am a big fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, because as an entertainer, he is a triple threat.  He can act, sing, and dance – all really well.  After watching his directorial debut entitled Don Jon, I suspect that I may soon have to start referring to him as a quadruple threat.  Because while Don Jon is not perfect, there are some good things going on in this movie that suggest that Gordon-Levitt has a bright future as a filmmaker.

The plot of the Gordon-Levitt penned film tells the story of Jon Martello, a young man raised in the shadows of New York City, who has been given the nickname Don Jon by his boys out of admiration for his ability to pick up one night stands.  Like any other boy meets girl story, when Jon meets a “dime” named Barbara it seems that he may have met the woman of her dreams and likewise she has met her perfect match.  The only catch is that he is addicted to pornography.  Hilarity and self-discovery ensue.

So the thing that is going to immediately going to jump of the screen is the film’s overt sexuality.  From innuendo to pornography, the plot is packed to the gills with all things carnal.  To say that I can hardly hear the sound of my Mac booting up without associating it with racy scenes from the movie would be an understatement (you’ll understand once you see the film).  Sure, there are moments where it feels overly gratuitous but upon closer inspection, there’s a purpose to all that unfolds on screen.  While the sexuality of the film may be a titular attraction for some and a vulgar turnoff for others, it actually serves as a tool for making some clever observations.  Don’t get me wrong.  Don Jon is not that movie which is intent on making a high level high-brow commentary on life, but rather it pokes fun at relationships as they exist in this day and age.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the writer, director, and star does some really good work in this film.  As Jon Martello, Gordon-Levitt does a very good job of paying attention to details and pulling together a character that has depth and is authentic.  From the slicked back hair to the weight lifting sessions; the Catholicism and the obnoxious strut, there is a purpose to these details that come together to create an unapologetic character sketch that is highly reminiscent of Saturday Night Fever.  It’s not an awards season kind of performance but it is an entertaining one.

Scarlett Johansson, as Barbara, does a nice job as a well-to-do princess with a cheesy New York accent.  Sure, it’s something we have seen from her before in hammed up Saturday Night Live sketches, but in Don Jon Johansson reigns it in enough to convincingly portray a character who is as nauseating and grating as a significant other as she is attractive as a woman.  The masterful stroke to this portrayal is the true-to-life manner with which one must peel back the layers to truly discover her shortcomings.

Along with the two leads, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza also bring a lot of positives to the production.  With Moore, it is simply no surprise.  She is both talented and experienced and has a track record of consistency that is second to none.  Her work in Don Jon is no exception as it oscillates between funny and poignant whenever the script demands.  Danza’s work, however, comes as a complete surprise.  When last we saw him in a feature film role of any significance, the year was 1994 and the movie was Angels in the Outfield (also featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  In Don Jon, Danza expertly plays Jon’s father, by proving that he still has that comedic touch.  Some of the best moments are born from Danza’s physical comedy and his ability to deliver a punch line.  This results in a number of instances where Danza completely steals the scene.

Unfortunately, no production is without its flaws.  One issue with Don Jon is that as you move further down the cast roster, the performances become more uneven.  Glenne Headly, Rob Brown, and Jeremy Luke each have moments where they shine but those are interspersed between too many missed opportunities and hands that are overplayed.  In some respects, this is a byproduct of how their respective characters are written; as hammed up vehicles for plot advancement and punch lines, but then the exact same could be said of Tony Danza’s character.  As for Brie Larson, she is drastically under utilized as a means to set up one of the climactic moments of the film, but unfortunately the pay off does not pay off.

What really keeps hinders Don Jon and prevents it from being a remarkable movie is the third act.  It runs long and goes awry with a swerve that feels more like it was injected into the plot to placate the expectations of the target demographic.  It turns the film from a clever one with an indie flair to one that might be run on The Lifetime Network.  The tone changes so drastically that it feels like a different film and that chasm between the second and third act, damages the plot’s cohesiveness.

Still, in its totality, the movie is enjoyable.  At times the direction and framing are simple – perhaps too simple – and everything feels a bit too linear, but much of this stems from Gordon-Levitt’s relative inexperience behind the camera.  Still, in the scenes that work you can see his potential and the promise that more seasoning should bring to fruition.  I would recommend this movie, though I don’t know that you need to run out to the cinema to watch it.  While it is loaded with visuals, they are not necessarily the ones that need to be plastered on the big screen to be appreciated.  So for most, this may play better as rental. Regardless of how you choose to view it, I feel fairly confident that you will at worst be moderately entertained.  That’s no faint praise considering the quality of theatrical releases this year.

Standout Performance:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt for writing, directing, and starring in this film.


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